Sculpture by Regine Haunschmidt

© Atelier Azur/Regine Haunschmidt

Light sculptures reminiscent of bubbling champagne

Melting, sculpting and combining with other materials: Regine Haunschmidt draws inspiration from the many diverse processing options of PLEXIGLAS® to create fascinating pieces of art.

“My work begins where that of polymer processors stops,” says Regine Haunschmidt. The Austrian artist heats up PLEXIGLAS® to the point where bubbles form in the material, thus giving her works the appearance of bubbling champagne. “These bubbles are absolutely unwanted in plastic processing,” says the 52-year-old. “Acrylic glass should normally be as immaculate as possible.”

Inspirational material

And if anyone knows this, it is Haunschmidt. She first came into contact with acrylic glass over 20 years ago while working as a graphic designer for a polymer processor. She has been fascinated by the material ever since. “It is unbelievably transparent while simultaneously adding a touch of warmth and elegance,” explains Haunschmidt. “My main inspiration, however, are the diverse processing options, as I like working with my hands.” She was able to explore these options first hand on leftover materials while working at the company on weekends. She heated these parts until they slowly began to melt and bubbles began to form. She cut parts, molded them, experimented with fluorescent materials and combined transparent pieces with light.

Excellent light conductor

“I discovered just how well PLEXIGLAS® can be combined with light: The light-conducting properties bring objects to life and turn them into a focal point of the room,” says Haunschmidt. This was a seminal moment for the artist, who is now self-employed and creates small and large light sculptures in her atelier, “Azur – Kunst & Technik”. Since early 2018, her portfolio even includes illuminated speakers, which she has developed herself.

The acrylic glass cooker

Regine Haunschmidt describes herself as an “acrylic glass cooker”, but she does more than simply heat up the material. “I work with acrylic glass; I sculpt, bend, laser, cut and melt it. Acrylic glass is a fantastic material and the ideas and options for processing it are by no means exhausted.”

© Atelier Azur/Regine Haunschmidt

“I use PLEXIGLAS® because I need a high-quality starting material for my work.”

Regine Haunschmidt
artist

High material quality required

In her work, Haunschmidt exclusively uses PLEXIGLAS®, the brand acrylic glass from Evonik. “The reason is simple. It’s because I need a high-quality starting material for my work,” she explains. “For example, I need a material that can conduct light even through a sculpture that is two meters tall.” Additionally, the material must be completely transparent. “Other transparent polymers often seem completely transparent at first glance, but when they are illuminated, they often suddenly appear cloudy,” Haunschmidt says. PLEXIGLAS®, or polymethyl methacrylate to give it its correct chemical name, is completely colorless in its pure form.

How does PLEXIGLAS® react to water?

In humid environments, PLEXIGLAS® absorbs approximately 1.2 percent water. This value increases to 2 percent when it is placed in a water bath. As a result, a 1-meter-long PLEXIGLAS® sheet can stretch by 1 to 2 millimeters, depending on the way it is stored.

Craftsmanship and experience

All light sculptures are crafted in her atelier in Altlengbach, 40 kilometers west of Vienna. “I begin by developing an idea. How many bubbles is the artwork supposed to have? What form should the sculpture take? Should there be sections, or special shapes?” says Haunschmidt. A processor uses a laser to bring the PLEXIGLAS® sheet into the right shape. The material is then placed in a water bath for two to three weeks, which enables additional water to penetrate the material. “This step is necessary for more bubbles to form in the material when it is heated,” explains Haunschmidt. “It is also a very unusual way of processing acrylic glass, as the material would usually be tempered to avoid bubbles forming.”

Heating until bubbles form

The artist heats the PLEXIGLAS® with infrared heaters for a specific period of time, depending on the number of bubbles the finished artwork is supposed to have. “Based on the experience I have gained over the past 20 years, I now know pretty well how long I need to heat up the material,” Haunschmidt says. While the material cools, she molds it into the desired shape using weights. Several hours pass before a light sculpture is complete and Haunschmidt cannot take a break in that time. “The bubbles only form when the heat is applied constantly, and the material can only be molded while it is still warm.” After the sculpture has cooled, it is polished and sanded.

LEDs for a diverse range of colors

The result is colorless and interspersed with bubbles. The pieces of art only become colorful when illuminated using RGB LEDs in the base. Theoretically, these LEDs allow for up to 16 million colors. Haunschmidt’s favorite color is blue, which is also where the name of her atelier Azur comes from. Blue like the sky, or the water she uses to turn PLEXIGLAS® into art.